Living in a Fallen World?

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April 7, 2015

Last Friday, while you were going to your Easter mass, or having your seder to remember the escape of the Jews from slavery, I was watching on CNN the HBO documentary “Terror at the Mall,” the terrorist attack by the Al-Shabaab group at an upscale shopping mall in Kenya on September 21, 2013.  It probably was not random that CNN showed this documentary for the second time in just a few months.  A few days before, also in Kenya, 148 college students were gunned down by the Al-Shabaab group in their dormitory at dawn, some were still asleep.  

In this documentary, a British man who looked in his thirties recounted how he and his Asian wife were shot, how scared she was as they laid side by side and how he tried to reach out and hold her hand until she died.

A young woman recounted hiding with some people including a young boy and his mother, and her own two young children in the meat area of the super market when the killers came in, shot her and the boy’s mother.  This boy was constantly screaming and asking why someone would shoot his mother.  She didn’t do anything wrong, why was she shot to death?  Even a young boy understood how a just life was not supposed to be that way!

Later, an American woman was allowed by another terrorist to leave the grocery store, when she took all her courage and confronted him about letting her children leave.  He even asked her to take the injured boy with her; and when her 6 year old son was telling him how he was a “bad man” for killing people, he apologized to him.  The young mother stated she realized how “mad” these men were, to kill some innocents then apologize to the others.  There was no pattern, no methodical system of who to spare and who to kill.  In some cases, the terrorists were asking their victims if they were Christians, then shot them if they said yes.  Many Muslims, however, including three pregnant women, were also killed.

Some survivors recounted their random chance of meeting the terrorists in the mall. Video footage from the security camera allowed us to watch these random encounters of the hunters and their victims.   A middle age man was seen trying to hide behind a big stuffed elephant in a store, leaning out to look left and right for the killers who eventually reached the store.  They could easily see a part of his body protruding from behind the stuffed animal. He was shot to death, leaving the “audience” like me to wonder why he was hiding only part of his body behind the stuffed elephant, like an ostrich sticking his head in the sand as if the problem would go away if he did not look.  Should he have hid under a desk, a couch, some closets, a bathroom, a storage room, why behind a stuffed elephant at the entrance of the store?  Did he think it didn’t matter where he was hiding?

While you were in your church for Easter, or at a seder for Passover, I was watching this documentary and saw how people were fending for themselves, living the terror, calculating their steps to survival.  They were on their own in that mall, where they probably did not have time to wonder if God was watching in silence or planning a rescue strategy for them all.  Should they pray for mental comfort and physical strength in case they have to run as fast as they can away from the killers?  Should they pray for inner peace and the ability to deal with their fear?  Wasn’t it painfully clear that God was not in the mall, this omnipotent God who is supposed to rescue innocents from harm’s way?  It doesn’t mean he does not exist, it only means he wasn’t there.  Would it be better to think he was there but chose not to do anything to help these terrified innocent people who were randomly chosen to be shot, be they Muslim or Christian?  If he was there and not doing anything, many would ask, how would that be any different from saying, in essence, he was not there? 

I don’t know what to think whenever I see this kind of violence falling on the innocents.  Are we living in a “fallen” world, as a Christian friend of mine believes, where terrible things can happen to good people, or are we living in a world where things happen, as intentionally designed by a logical God, to teach us lessons? Both of these Christian friends are equally intelligent and were very well-educated at the best schools.  They both go to the same church but their thinking is clearly different.  

In “Terror at the Mall,” some people were helping each other escape, as we saw a South Asian signaling to an American to let her help carry one of her three young children to run through the mall.   This stranger to the terrified mother could be seen on the security camera, cradling the baby in her arms and dashing through the long hall toward the exit of freedom.  This South Asian woman, in my opinion, was doing her “Godly” work of protecting an innocent from harm’s way.  

Toward the end of the documentary, several survivors were interviewed and it was hard not to shed tears listening to what they had to say about their long ordeal that day in the mall.   The young man whose Asian wife died with her hand in his said: 

” It was a matter of bad luck to be there.”

Several men working in the meat area escaped by hiding behind their counter.  One of them was interviewed and looked perplexed into the camera as he was asked why he thought he was able to escape while being in the same vicinity with other victims who were shot to death.

“ It wasn’t my day!”

What do you think? Was it random that they were there, or was it safe to be in that mall on that terrible day if it was not “your day” to go?

Today, as NPR news had it, it was like a college graduation at the morgue in Kenya, where students’ names were called out loud, whenever a body was identified.  One hundred and forty-eight dead, at the peak of their lives, like the spring blossoms that will never fully bloom.  How beautiful would these blossoms have been, if the storm did not come, nobody will ever know.  How many of their parents may wish they had taught their kids an Islam prayer which could have saved their lives.  Would reciting the Islam prayer make them less Christian?  Maybe or maybe not, depending on your beliefs, but it probably would have saved their lives.

What kind of world are we living in? The same as we have always been living in, according to my teenage son.  History has never changed, why do we study history and not try to make changes for better outcomes?  Even a teenager is puzzled over our world full of contradictions.  Should we pray or shouldn’t we pray? Would it make any difference? 

The truth, in my opinion, is not to pray to God to spare you and let the others be killed, to give you victory and the others defeat.  I have always questioned why a sport team huddles before a game to pray for victory.  It might be helpful if the team was playing against a team of atheists.  What if the other team is also full of Christians? How would God decide what to do, if he even has time to watch a sports game while the world is full of chaos?

Let us all pray that God will give us the wisdom to use our minds, our voices, our actions to love and protect each other.  After all, like the birch trees, we might look different and pray in different languages or worship in different ways, yet beneath this thin veil of differences, our life intentions are mostly the same.  Until we all recognize this simple concept, our God will continue to watch in silence, as we destroy each other.

“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

                                             Mahatma Gandhi

“I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit”

                                                Khalil Gibran